Review: Spiritual Practices of Jesus

Spiritual Practices of Jesus, Catherine J. Wright. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A study of three spiritual practices of Jesus found in Luke’s gospel considering them in the first century context of his readers and the writings of the earliest fathers of the church.

Catherine J. Wright does several things in this book I have not seen before. First, she focuses attention on what the scriptures, and specifically Luke’s gospel have to say about the spiritual practices of Jesus. She does so systematically, looking at all the passages around a particular practice.

Second, she asks the question of how Luke’s earliest readers in the first century would have thought about the particular practice in question. In particular, she keeps in mind the intention of first century biographies not only to inform but also transform the readers. Consideration is given to the regard given the practice in the wider culture and how this might shape their reception of Luke’s account.

Finally, Wright looks at the earliest church fathers and their interpretations and responses to Luke’s gospel. This offers tangible evidence of how the church understood and received these accounts in their setting.

Wright focuses on three practices, each which recur in numerous passages in Luke: simplicity, humility, and prayer. For each, she offers commentary on the text, then discussion of the practice in first century culture, and thirdly, she goes back to the specific texts from the first overview and discusses what the early church fathers had to say about the text. Through all this, she both summarizes the practice of Jesus and draws compelling contemporary applications for the church.

For example, she considers the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and the rich man who approaches Jesus., noting the lack of generosity with both, the unwillingness to be dispossessed of wealth for the care of others, and in the latter’s case, to pursue the kingdom. Wright notes the expectations in both Jewish and Greek literature for the rich to be benefactors. In learning from the fathers, we learn that Chrysostom considered the failure to give alms to the poor to be theft. Basil of Caesarea teaches that “the more you abound in wealth, the more you lack in poverty.” Wright then concludes with this trenchant application in her summary:

Perhaps one reason for the emphasis on radical almsgiving is the lens through which early Christians look at wealth. In their opinion, we don’t really own our wealth. It is placed in our care by God so that we may bestow it to those who have less than we do. Therefore, when we spend our wealth on ourselves alone, we are essentially stealing from the poor (and thereby from God). The reverse is also true. When we give to the poor, we show ourselves to be good stewards of the resources God has trusted us with, and we are, in essence, giving to God. This attitude could not be further from the attitude that many Christians in America have today.

Catherine J. Wright, p. 63.

She offers challenges around humility as the mark of the early Christian but forgotten in the contemporary church’s quest for power and influence. She notes the practice of continual, fervent prayer by both Jesus and his early followers and the superficial practices that characterize most of our Western churches.

As we hear of the practices of simplicity, humility, and prayer in connection with our Lord, we say, “but of course.” What Wright’s close reading of Luke’s gospel, and consideration of Luke’s earliest readers does, is challenge us to see what this meant for those who called, and call themselves disciples. As Wright traces this out, it becomes apparent that many of us have not looked very closely at Luke’s narrative, not the Lord of whom it is written, if measured by the lack of correspondence between our lives and His. Wright does not bludgeon us with this truth but beckons us to join Luke’s early readers in the embrace of these practices out of love for the one who called us and models and teaches them for us to live into.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Howard C. Aley

Photo Source: Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share. Youngstown: The Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio, 1975.

I never knew Howard C. Aley, but hardly a week goes by where I don’t reference his A Heritage to Share, his bicentennial history of Youngstown and Mahoning County. He traces the history of the Mahoning Valley from prehistoric times up until 1975. For most of the time from Youngstown’s beginnings, he recounts the history year by year, interspersing feature articles on events and key figures in the area’s history. Whenever I write about Youngstown history, I often start with two sources. Joseph Butler for anything up to the early 1920’s and Howard C. Aley for the whole time up until 1975. Sometimes, browsing through Aley’s book inspires an article. At other times, I ask, “what did Aley say?” While he was alive, I doubt anyone knew more about Youngstown history. Today, as I was browsing his history, I thought it would be interesting to tell his story.

Fittingly, Howard Aley was a lifelong Youngstown resident. He was born on January 12, 1911 to William and Rose Giering Aley. He experienced an illness during his youth that confined him at home. His parents gave him a typewriter to “amuse” him, and the writer was born. He graduated from South High School in 1931 and enrolled at Youngstown College, serving as an editor of The Jambar. He began a career as a teacher in 1935 that lasted until his retirement in 1974.

The series on Valley history

He taught history for seventh through eleventh graders for a year at the Rotary Home for Crippled Children. He began teaching at the Adams School in 1936. In the 1940’s he published a series of books on Valley history used in schools in a tri-county area. They won a Freedoms Foundation Award. He won a second Freedoms Foundation Award in 1960. He moved to Wilson High School in 1953, teaching there for 21 years until 1974. Former students would come up to him, asking if he remembered them, and he almost always did. They were eager to keep in touch with him because of his interest in them and because of how he instilled a love of historical knowledge.

He was a radio and TV personality in the Valley. His TV shows ran under the titles of “It Happened Here” and “Telerama” and “Footnote.” He was also active in a number of Valley organizations including the Monday Musical Club, Youngstown Hospital Association, Aut Mori Grotto and the Youngstown Charity Horse Show. He also edited “Chimes,” the monthly newsletter of Trinity United Methodist Church where he was a member. He loved the Canfield Fair and wrote a centennial history of it in 1946. He served as a president of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

His home in Boardman served as a kind of private historical archive. In some recent correspondence with a former neighbor, he mentioned that Aley had a library of several thousand volumes that spilled over into the garage. One summer, Aley found a house in Canfield with newspapers back to the turn of the century. The neighbor spent a summer working with him clipping articles for Aley’s archives. His obituary states that he could find the answer to any question about people or events in the Mahoning Valley in a matter of minutes.

My copy of A Heritage to Share

A Heritage to Share was a fitting capstone to his career as “historian of the Valley.” Completed in time for the celebrations of the national Bicentennial in 1976, it is a treasure trove. It is out of print. My son found a copy for me at a used bookstore. I never got to meet Howard C. Aley, who died in 1983, but I sometimes imagine him turning to me and saying, “do you know why…?” Thank you, Mr. Aley for all you did to tell the Valley’s story.

Source: “Howard C. Aley; Valley Historian,” Youngstown Vindicator, July 14, 1983, pp. 1-2.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Review: Six Months in 1945

Six Months in 1945: From World War to Cold War, Michael Dobbs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

Summary: An account of the six months from Yalta to Hiroshima and how the decisions and events of those months shaped the post-war world.

Michael Dobbs contends that the six months from February to August of 1945 profoundly shaped the post-war world dashing the hopes for world peace, replacing it with a “cold” war between the two major superpowers to emerge from the world. How did Allies against Germany become adversaries?

The account begins with the conference at Yalta in the Crimea. Planned to accommodate Stalin, it represented an arduous journey via ship, air, rail, and auto for a dying president and a recently ill prime minister. Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill arrived at the top of their game. What they found at the conference was a Stalin who was. Given that his country had borne the brunt of the war against Germany (and the casualties), he came with terms on which he would not yield about the borders and government of Poland and his influence in Eastern Europe. Dobbs shows how Roosevelt and Churchill, sometimes with vagueness of wording, tried to reach agreements about the shape of the post-war world that preserved self-autonomy for these countries and preservation of the unity of Germany. Roosevelt described their efforts as “the best I could do.” For Churchill, the handwriting was on the wall for his influence and the British empire. He recognized that he now was junior to the two great powers.

The second part traces the conclusion of the war, the race for Berlin, the death of Roosevelt, the linkup and the zones of occupation. The new president, Harry Truman almost immediately had to stand up to Molotov on the matter of Poland and honoring the agreements of Yalta. But as the old saying goes, possession is nine-tenths of the law, and the Russians were in possession of most of what they wanted. Amid all this, Dobbs captures the momentary joy of the meet-up of forces.

Part Three covers the conference in Potsdam, the tenuous balance of standing up to Stalin as an “iron curtain” descends on Eastern Europe and Poland’s government is dominated by pro-Communist leaders., even while Stalin’s help is still sought to deal with Japan. During the conference, Churchill learns that the elections he called turned him out of office. And Truman learned that the test of atomic weapons was devastatingly successful. Japan would be warned, resist, be bombed twice, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and capitulate, even as Russia was turning back forces in Manchuria but was still short of all the prizes sought in the East.

A foreign service officer from the U.S. in Russia sent his famous “long telegram” with his analysis of Russian intent and recommendation of an American policy of containment, which became our foreign policy until 1989 (and may be once more). Reading this made me wonder if the combination of weariness and perhaps naivete of Roosevelt, and the divorce of military strategy and geopolitical assessment led to this outcome. Churchill saw this coming. But he was also the one so cautious about a cross-channel invasion. Great Britain and America’s late engagement, after the Russians’ years of fighting and dying and turning back the German threat left them in a place where all they could do was say “pretty please” to a country who held most of the cards.

For those whose knowledge of this history is a few vaguely remembered paragraphs in a history book, this is a detailed plunge into these six defining months exploring the personalities, the changing power dynamics, the events and the geopolitics that shaped the post-war world. The account balances depth and pace in a way that always fascinates and never plods. It demonstrates that nothing may be so dangerous as a charming vision of world peace between ideological and geopolitical adversaries. Yalta was the wake-up call, and Potsdam the effort to contain the damages. But the amity of a wartime alliance would be no more.

Review: Companions in the Darkness

Companions in the Darkness, Diana Gruver (Foreword by Chuck DeGroat). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: Biographies of seven Christians in history who experienced depression and the hope we can embrace from how they lived through their struggle.

Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, David Brainerd, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. What these and two others in this book have in common is their struggles with depression. Diana Gruver, who has also experienced depression, has studied the lives of seven saints for what may be learned from their experience of depression. She writes:

Their stories bring me comfort, reassuring me that I am not alone. They remind me that I am not the only one to walk this road, that this experience is not an alien one. The lie that “surely no one else has felt this” is cut down by the truth that others, in fact, have, and their presence makes me feel less isolated. These fellow travelers are my companions in the darkness of night.

Diana Gruver, p. 13.

Gruver gracefully narrates the stories of these saints, weaving in insights from her own struggles with depression. One of the striking things I noticed was the differences in these stories and that depression had many faces. Some seemed to have family proclivities toward depression, others like Charles Spurgeon first encountered depression more or less out of the blue, resulting from a tragic event. Some like David Brainerd struggled with concurrent health issues while others faced pressures from tremendously challenging events.

One of the most interesting stories will probably be an unknown to most of us, Hannah Allen. Having struggled with depression during her husband’s absences at sea, she sinks into a deeper depression when he dies at sea. At one point she secrets herself under the floorboards where she is staying, determined to starve herself to death. With the help of relatives, she eventually agreed to medical treatment, improving to the point where she re-married. Gruver discusses how prayer and reasoning from scripture were not enough:

The cure for Hannah Allen wasn’t to drag her to church. It wasn’t to convince her to pray more. It wasn’t to quote Scripture at her until it removed her despair. Her caretakers sought for her the best medical care of the day. They changed her surroundings. They put her on what we would now call suicide watch. They kept showing up with compassion. They attended to her soul, yes, but they also attended to her body.

Diane Gruver, p. 47.

Hannah left a spiritual memoir of her life, which is the primary way we know of her struggle. She represents the many “ordinary Christians” who anonymously struggle, and the hope there is for them.

Gruver not only candidly describes the struggles of each figure she profiles, she shows the efforts employed by each, all but Martin Luther King, Jr., before modern medical treatments. King had been recommended for psychiatric treatment for depression by a doctor but refused because of the efforts to discredit him and the stigma mental illness incurred in his time. Luther fled solitude, married, and enjoyed drink and laughter at the table. William Cowper, who gave us great hymns and struggled through his life with depression, found respite in art and friendship. Mother Teresa, who once experienced a clear call of God lived in spiritual darkness where God was utterly absent and chose continued obedience to Jesus despite her feelings. King drew on reservoirs of humor, song, and prayer, the spirituality of the Black church, to lead resiliently under a continuous cloud of threats on his life, and during the desertion of friends when he stood against the Vietnam War.

Gruver includes an appendix with practical guidelines for helping a friend through depression. She sums up the message of this book, drawn from Pilgrim’s Progress as Christian and Hopeful cross the River of Death, as “the water is deep, but the bottom is good.” Depression is hard but God has not abandoned us, even if it feels that way.

We’re in especially dark times. One public health study reports that the incidence of symptoms associated with depression have more than tripled during the COVID pandemic. It’s likely that we, personally, or someone we care for, are one of these. Reading the stories of these “companions,” while not a substitute for professional care, may offer insight and hope to make it to the other side of these dark months. This book is a gift for our times as well as a glimpse of a side of people we thought we knew, enhancing our understanding of the quality of their faithfulness to God.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Biblical Theology According to the Apostles

Biblical Theology According to the Apostles (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Chris Bruno, Jared Compton, Kevin McFadden. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A study of the summaries of Israel’s story in the New Testament and their culmination in the person of Christ.

The co-authors of this work call attention to a form of material not often paid heed to in the New Testament: the summaries of Israel’s story (SIS for short). They focus on seven SIS in the New Testament, and for each consider its context, content, and contribution to biblical theology. The seven are, with brief summaries of their contribution to biblical theology”

Matthew 1:1-17. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. The build-up from Matthew to David, then the interruption of Israel’s hope in the exile, brought full circle with the birth of Jesus.

Matthew 21:33-46. The parable of the unfaithful tenants. The story of judgment upon Israel for failing to fulfill its covenant obligations and the culmination of the covenant in the rejected stone who becomes the holy mountain.

Acts 7. Stephens speech. Traces God’s vindication of his rejected servants climaxing in Christ whom the religious leaders had rejected.

Acts 13:16-41. Paul’s sermon in Pisidian Antioch. Traces the unfolding covenant from Abraham to Moses focusing on David and Christ, David’s greater son.

Galatians 3-4. Paul’s three versions of Abraham’s (and Israel’s) story in relation to the law and his offspring, Christ, and those who by faith are also his offspring, heirs by faith and promise, not law.

Romans 9-11. Israel’s identity. Israel by descent and by faith and the salvation of all Israel, on which the authors do not agree as to interpretation.

Hebrews 11. Israel’s heroes of faith. The authors observe the twin themes of social alienation and death and their heavenly hope fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus.

The authors note a number of threads running through these stories, most notably how they climax in Christ who resolves the tension of the seemingly failed land promises and exile. They highlight Abraham and David, who prefigure Christ, and Moses, more complex both as a figure of faith and the bringer of the Law. All told, the authors show how these summaries of Israel’s story contribute to the larger compositions in which they are embedded, focusing on Christ as covenant fulfillment and the example of persisting faith as an encouragement to an often-suffering church.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: March, Book One

March: Book One, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin (co-author), Nate Powell (artist). Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2013.

Summary: A graphic non-fiction biography of John Lewis. Book One focuses on his youth, the contact with Martin Luther King, Jr. that changed the course of his life, and his early efforts in the desegregation of lunch counters in Nashville.

We lost one of the last great civil rights leaders of the 1950’s and 1960’s with the death of Congressman John Lewis this past July. Jon Meacham recently published His Truth is Marching On on the life of John Lewis (review). In this graphic non-fiction set of three books, we hear from John Lewis himself.

Book One begins, after the scene of the confrontation on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the brutal beating of Lewis, on January 20, 2009, the morning of the inauguration of Barack Obama. Lewis makes his way to his congressional office, preparing for his procession and seating to witness the swearing in of the first Black president. A family from Atlanta stops into his office to see the office of this famous civil rights pioneer. They receive far more, as they meet John Lewis, who narrates the course of his life.

He begins with life on his parent’s farm in Pike County Alabama, his early religious awakening and his “ministry” with his chickens. He describes the trip north with his Uncle Otis, and his discovery that racial segregation wasn’t the same in the north. He describes his passion for education, first encounters with the preaching of Martin Luther King, Jr on the radio, his opportunity to go to seminary, and discovery of the social gospel. This led to his decision to transfer to Troy State and his first meeting with Dr. King.

The next stage in his development was his training with James Lawson in the practice of non-violent resistance. He describes the workshops and the verbal and physical assaults to see if any would break under the stress. The graphic depiction of this training, and the supplement practice of that discipline helps one grasp in a new way the costliness and courage of the non-violent way. Be sure to read the instructions given every volunteer on page 97.

The beginning of their activism was to press for the desegregation of Nashville’s lunch counters. The refusals, the abuse, the beatings, and the refusal of the police to intervene are all shown. Then the arrests are followed by jail, court hearings, refusals to pay fine, and more jail. The book ends with the confrontation at city hall and the mayor’s agreement to allow the lunch counters to integrate.

Lewis represented the daring edge of the civil rights movement, refusing to heed older leading lights like Thurgood Marshall, being willing to risk life and limb to continue to non-violently protest segregation. This leads to formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC or “Snick”) with Lewis in leadership.

One comes away from reading this appreciating the deep spirituality, discipline, resolve and courage of Lewis and so many of those who marched, sat at counters, and shared beatings and jail cells with him. One also grasps the power of their courage and nonviolent resistance to unmask the dehumanizing character of racism-a story Lewis wants to pass to the next generation listening in his office.

Review: A Commentary on James

A Commentary on James, Aida Besancon Spencer. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2020.

Summary: A scholarly and accessible exegetical commentary on the Epistle of James.

The Epistle of James has often been the object of at least discussion, if not controversy. Despite attribution to the brother of the Lord, it’s place in the canon faced questions, even from Luther who considered it a “right strawy epistle.” Then, those who have preached this epistle have struggled to find how it coheres.

Aida Besancon Spencer addresses all these questions and more in this new exegetical commentary in the Kregel Exegetical Library series. She addresses the standard introductory matters of authorship, date, and occasion, summarizing differing views. She proposes that James 1:21 is a thesis verse for the full book: “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (NIV). She contends that there are three specific ways we turn from evil and accept the implanted word: through responding in godly ways to trials, by embracing God-given wisdom that shapes our speech, and by right attitudes toward wealth that cares for and uplifts the poor.

The commentary then follows the five chapters of James beginning with a translation and phrase by phrase grammatical analysis, noting the relationship of each phrase to surrounding phrases. Then an outline and literary structure is offered followed by careful exegesis. The chapter concludes with theological and homiletic topics, offering suggestions for those preaching or teaching these passages.

The exegesis is broken up by tables showing either internal structures or comparing/contrasting passages in James with other biblical texts. For example how James and Paul interact with Genesis 15:6, or the OT and NT quotations in James or parallels in questions and answers with Malachi 1. These “echoes” are important to understanding meaning and are woven throughout.

There are a number of excurses on specific passages in which the author offers contemporary applications–something one often does not find in an academic commentary, but which reflects her wide experience in urban work. Among these are “Who Are the Poor Today?” and how “Employers Still Withhold Wages from Workers.” Some of the latter include using bankruptcy laws to avoid paying workers, complaining of substandard work from contractors with otherwise excellent reputations, not passing along tips, withholding overtime wages, insisting on “off the clock” hours, or other off-hour work without pay.

I’m glad to add this commentary to my shelves. It is scholarly, thorough, accessible and embodies the author’s thesis verse for James, showing a humble acceptance of the word planted in us. We’re challenged in how we confront suffering, embrace wisdom, and deal with wealth. Aida Besancon Spencer models exegetical rigor and pastoral integrity.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dollar Savings & Trust

Early postcard of Dollar Savings and Trust Building

Somewhere around fifth grade, I decided my allowance wasn’t quite enough for my baseball card collecting (wish I still had that collection). So with dad fronting me the money for a lawn mower, I went door to door and convinced ten people within a couple blocks of my house to let me cut their grass and pay me for it. Back in the sixties, I earned about $20 a week. One of the best things my father did was insist I set up a savings account at the bank down the street from our home, the Dollar Savings and Trust. Our branch was located a few blocks from our home in the same block on Mahoning Avenue as Stambaugh-Thompson’s and an Isaly store. When I was young, I’d go to the bank with my dad sometimes, then we’d pick up some hardware for the house, and finish with ice cream. I had good memories of going to the bank.

I received my own passbook (with my dad’s name also on the account). Most weeks, I’d deposit $5 unless I had a very good week. And then something magical happened. Once a month the teller would add some money to my account that I didn’t deposit. It was interest and my first exposure to the idea that first you work for your money, and then you let your money work for you. I learned to set goals. I remember when I saw a stereo at Dave’s Appliance. I saved for months until I had enough money. I withdrew it from the bank and took it up to Dave’s and bought that stereo. Music never sounded so good!

Later in junior high and high school other jobs followed. I still cut lawns, raked leaves, shoveled snow, delivered papers, and then worked at McKelvey’s. I wanted to go to college, so I kept saving. It paid off. Between savings and scholarships, I ended college debt-free–thanks to dad’s lessons and my local Dollar Savings & Trust, which later gave me a small loan for my first used car after college.

The Dollar Savings and Trust Company (the “and” was replace with “&” only in 1975) was established in 1887. Asael Adams, originally from Cleveland, was one of the early presidents, beginning in 1895. He oversaw the construction of their downtown headquarters on the northwest corner of Central Square in 1901-1902. Charles H. Owsley was the building architect. Owsley and his son Charles F. designed some of the iconic buildings in Youngstown. During this time it reached $1,500,000 in capital.

One of the first tenants of the building beside the bank was the Youngstown Club which occupied the seventh and eighth floors of the building until 1926. In 1947 the bank had grown to the point that it acquired City Trust and Savings for $1.3 million. By 1970, with the opening of an Austintown branch, the bank had thirteen branches. Between 1972 and 1975 the downtown bank was completely remodeled, including refacing the building with a modern looking granite face. At the time of its acquisition by National City Bank in Cleveland in 1994, it had 32 branches, having acquired some other regional banks with $1,052,621,000 in assets and $838,150,000 in deposits. In turn PNC Bank acquired National City Bank in 2008.

About the time PNC acquired National City Bank parts of the granite façade deteriorated and crumbling pieces started falling, endangering pedestrians. Scaffolding was erected and repairs were made by 2011. However PNC moved the downtown bank to City Centre One in 2012, leaving the old building, now rebranded 16 Wick Avenue nearly 90% unoccupied. Several office leasing companies list the whole building as available and held by NYO Properties, developer of many downtown properties, that recently has been trying to sell a number of these. It is also listed on the “Abandoned” website which has a number of images of the interior including the bank vault.

Today, PNC has four branches in the Youngstown area, a far cry from Dollar Savings and Trust at its height. It reflects both the changed landscape of banking and the changed economics of Youngstown. None of the banks we grew up with remain under the familiar names of that time, nor are any under local control. But that doesn’t mean we can’t remember the role they played in teaching us to save, giving us our first loan or mortgage, helping us to manage our earnings and investments, putting our money to work for us.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Review: All I Did Was Shoot My Man

All I Did Was Shoot My Man (A Leonid McGill Mystery #4), Walter Mosley. New York, Riverhead Press, 2012.

Summary: The release from prison of a woman framed in an insurance heist sets loose a string of murders, including an attempt on McGill’s life, even while he tries to find out who is behind the heist and the murders.

Eight years ago Leonid McGill was hired as a fixer to plant evidence in the storage locker of a woman, Zella Grisham, already arrested for wounding her boyfriend, who she caught with another woman. The evidence connected her with a heist of $58 million involving an insurance company. Now working as a New York private investigator, he works to get her released early and started in a new life. She doesn’t know he set her up.

Then people connected with the heist start getting murdered. He hides Zella away with a friend who owes him. Two foreign hired guns break in on McGill and his wife while he is sleeping. Impressively, the foreign guns end up dead. All this fuels McGill’s passion, or desire to atone for his wrong. Zella deserves better. Despite a warning from a detective in the NYPD, he pursues the case to find out who is masterminding the killings, and perhaps the heist.

McGill’s efforts to atone are not limited to his cases. His wife struggles with depression and drinking. Toward the end of the novel, his absentee, Marxist-revolutionary father gets in touch (there is significance to the name Leonid). His blood son’s lover is an ex-hooker from Belarus. He is trying to save his Katrina’s son Twill from pursuing a life of crime by training him as an investigator. Turns out he is good. Sent to investigate a rich family’s wayward son, he discovers there is far more to it than a case of falling in with the wrong people.

Walter Mosley is considered the dean of Black crime fiction writers. This might be described as New York noir, by turns gritty and sophisticated, moving from the streets to high powered corporate offices. There is quite a bit going on in this book, and a twisty primary plot. I’ve seen criticism of the one-dimensional female figures, and apart from troubled Katrina, this seems true–the men, even the bit players seem more interesting. For me, the most interesting part is McGill’s misdeeds (and current appetites), his sense of the wrongs he’s done, what can’t be undone and what he must try to do, if he can live long to do it.

This is my first Mosley read. Some like his Easy Rawlins stories better. With my limited exposure, I have to say interesting, but not at the top of my list of crime fiction writers, but the jury is not in.

Thoughts and Words

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

I reviewed Adam Smyer’s You Can Keep That To Yourself yesterday. He make’s this interesting observation at the beginning of the book:

I will tell you what not to say, but I will not tell you what not to think. Think whatever you like.

Let’s review.

THOUGHTS are the things on the In side of your head. They are invisible. Your thoughts are yours. No one else’s. No one else wants them.

WORDS are the things that exit your hole to the Out side of your head, where we are. They are a lot like thoughts, except that we can hear them. We don’t want most of those, either. You can keep them.

Adam Smyer, You Can Keep That to Yourself, p. 9.

Smyer’s book is about the insensitive things “well-intentioned people of pallor” say to Black people. But there is a principle here that is worth considering in all situations: you don’t have to say everything you think.

This is a principle I’ve called to mind again and again during the past election season. Whenever I’ve failed to observe it online, I’ve ended up responding to those who disagreed with me, wasting too much of my one precious life. How liberating it was to realize that I didn’t have to respond to an objectionable comment. I could respond in my head and hit mental “send” and let it go.

There are so many times when I’ve wished I could stuff words back into thought-land. Unfortunately, you can’t. All you can do is clean up the mess.

I personally wonder why people feel compelled to disagree on matters of taste. If you don’t like butter pecan ice cream, you really don’t need to rain on my parade. Why not just share your own favorite, like cookies ‘n cream–or whatever!

I like how the New Living Translation renders Proverbs 10:19:

Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.

There are times, though, when we do need to speak. It’s one thing to think about what not to say. What tests may we apply to discern what we should say? There is a test developed by Herbert J. Taylor and introduced to the Chicago Rotary Club that was eventually adopted by the Rotary International and called the Four Way Test for these four questions:

1. Is it the TRUTH?
2. Is it FAIR to all Concerned?
3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Imagine applying this to work conversations, our marriages, and everything we post online. Imagine if we could get all our politicians to pledge to this simple test and keep everything that doesn’t meet the test in thought land.

I suspect using this test, if nothing else, will incline us to say less. Sometimes, by pausing and using this test I find my initial thought was wrong and not what I really think, or would say. If I am not sure in some situations how to answer, it can help. After all, should I say what I’m thinking when I’m not sure of the answers to the questions of the Four Way Test? Probably not.

Just remember. You don’t have to say everything you think. Less is more.